Point Spread Explained: What Does Spread in Sports Betting Mean?

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Point Spread Explained: What Does Spread in Sports Betting Mean?
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Point spreads are among the most popular betting types. This guide overviews point spread betting, what the point spread means, and how to place spread wagers on the NFL, NBA, and more.

What Does Spread Mean in Betting?

A point spread allows the oddsmakers at your favorite sports betting sites to provide a small margin of error to even the odds between two teams. Online sportsbooks project the margin of victory of the winning team, and you place your bet on whether you think that margin will be higher or lower than their projections.

The spread will signify the number of points between either team's scores.

How Does a Point Spread Work?

Oddsmakers will develop odds based on thorough statistical analysis and choose favored and underdog teams. Favored teams are signaled with a negative number, while underdog teams are listed with a positive number.

These two outcomes have different meanings depending on your research and which team you have decided to bet on:

  1. The negative number signifies how many points the favored team has to win the game for a bet to pay out.
  2. The positive number signifies that the underdog team must either 1) win or 2) lose by less than that amount to pay out.

This will give the underdog a slight advantage. Where you may not find value in betting on an underdog on the moneyline, you can find some value here with point spreads.

How to Read Point Spread Odds

We have the basics of a point spread wager down; now, let’s look at the odds associated with your wager. If you’re familiar with moneylines, you will understand how the odds work, but we can briefly go over this again.

The odds associated with these teams will show the likelihood of that team winning the game.

Again, the minus-sign sign symbol will show that the team will likely win. The bigger the negative number, the more likely that team is to win.

The plus-sign symbol again shows the underdog team. The bigger the positive number, the less likely the team will win.

Point Spread Betting using American Odds

American odds are most prevalent in North America.

When you look at the point spreads for a game, you will see the number represented in either the plus or minus, and then the American odds—most likely somewhere around -105 or -110, but sometimes you may see upwards of 20 points on either side—will be next to them in brackets. 

Point spread odds aren’t in the same ranges you would see with moneylines, as huge underdogs exist. A margin of error is associated with point spreads, so oddsmakers don’t tend to be too risky with this betting type.

American odds show you your potential winnings on a $100 wager if you’re betting on underdog odds. If you bet on a +7.5-point spread with odds of odds +105, you would win $105 on a winning $100 wager. 

The favored team’s odds will show us how much we need to wager to win $100. For example, if the -7.5 point spread had (-115) odds, you would need to wager $115 to profit $100.

It’s that simple.

Point Spread Betting using Decimal Odds

If you’re more accustomed to decimal odds, we also have you covered. The decimal format is also used in North America but is more prevalent as a standard odds format in Europe. 

The decimal odds are very simple and show you what you could win for each dollar you bet. All you need to do is take the decimal odds that are listed by the team you want to bet on and multiply your stake by those odds, subtracting your $1 from your odds).

To convert positive American odds to decimal odds, divide the odds by 100 and add 1.

Our +105 underdog odds above on an $80 wager would work out to 2.05. All we would need to do is multiply 2.05 by 80 to get $164 in profit. You would receive $244 back on a winning bet.

To convert negative American odds to decimal odds, divide 100 by the odds and add 1.

Our favored team’s -115 odds translate to 1.87 in decimal odds. If we were to place an $80 wager on them, we would take away our initial $1 to make the odds .87:

80 multiplied by 0.87 is $69.60, and then you would also receive your $80 back for a total of $149.60 in winnings.

Point Spread Betting using Fractional Odds

Last but not least, fractional odds give you the opportunity to put those grade school math skills to the test. When using fractional odds for point spreads, you follow the same rules as the other formats. You will multiply your stake by the numerator and then divide that by the denominator.

The -115 odds above for our 7.5-point favorite translate to 87/100 in fractional odds. If we were to bet $50, we would multiply 50 by 87 to get 4,350, then divide that by 100 for $43.50 in winnings. On top of your initial $50 stake, that's a $93.50 payout.

The underdogs, on the other hand, would have fractional odds of 21/20. This would mean we would multiply $50 by 21 to get 1,050, then divide that by 20 to get $52.50 in winnings. Add this to your initial $50 to more than double your money.

Point Spread Betting by Sport

Point spreads can be displayed differently or look differently depending on which sport you are betting on. Sometimes, point spreads even have different names in different sports.

We want to show you real examples of point spreads in each professional sport so you can know what this should look like.

Football Point Spread Explained

NFL point spreads are arguably more popular than moneyline wagers or totals for regular Sunday betting. With point spreads, you can bet on underdogs with a little more confidence. You may see spreads between 1.5 and 11 points depending on the teams and the NFL betting sites in question.

Popular point spreads are set as field goal or touchdown differential (3.5 or 6.5). If you are betting on the Indianapolis Colts (+3.5) and the Detroit Lions (-3.5), you know the Lions are favored and need to win by more than four points, and the Colts are the underdogs and need to win or lose by less than three.

Basketball Spread Betting

We all know the NBA is high-scoring, which can make predicting the score nearly impossible. However, we don’t see large spreads in the NBA due to the caliber of play. Teams tend to be so closely matched, and teams can score so quickly that if NBA betting sites keep the spreads close, they won’t have huge risks associated with the games.

You might commonly see -1.5/+1.5 spreads or even a few points more, but nothing too high unless we look at a huge underdog situation.

red glowing basketball


Hockey is one of those sports that doesn’t record points, so to speak; they record goals. In the NHL, we call point spreads pucklines. They work the same as point spreads in other sports; they just go by a different name.

You can find spreads between 0.5 and 5.5 goals at NHL betting sites, as hockey is such a low-scoring game. You may find a point spread on a Montreal Canadiens (-1.5) and Boston Bruins (+1.5) game that you want to bet on. This means the Canadiens are favored and will need to win by 2 or more points, and the Bruins are the underdogs and need to win. The Bruins can lose by 1 goal, and your bet will still win.


Baseball is another sport that doesn’t track points; they track runs. Point spreads at MLB betting sites are aptly named runlines. Runline spreads usually are in the 0.5 to 2.5 range, but in baseball, it can be easy to accumulate points fast. All a team needs is one hot inning or a Grand Slam, and we're looking at a vastly different ball game.

If you’re looking at the Arizona Diamondbacks (+1.5) versus the Pittsburgh Pirates (-1.5), we predict a close game, and the Pirates are favored, meaning they will need to win by 2 points. If you bet on the Diamondbacks, they could lose by one run or win the game outright for that bet to cash out.

red glowing baseball


Spreads at soccer betting sites, or goalline wagers because they don’t track points, are one of the trickier point spreads because they often are fractions of points. You may see your usual 0.5, 1, or 1.5, but you will also see quarter points. 

Soccer games can end in a draw, meaning the teams tie, forcing a push. You wouldn’t win anything; your stake is returned.

Finding Best Point Spread Betting Sportsbooks

Now that you know how point spread bets work and how to read the odds, you can start preparing your betting strategy. Finding new betting sites or, if you prefer to bet on the go, sports betting apps for point spread betting is the best starting point if you’re new to sports betting. This should be your top priority

Our reviews provide an in-depth look at the most important criteria that sports bettors of all skill levels look for, including deposit options, bonus information, sign-up processes, security, app compatibility, and more.

Finding a sportsbook that suits your needs is important, and ensuring the sportsbook has great point-spread odds is even more important!

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